Journal Appendix: Lessons My Grandma Taught Me

September 30, 2015

My grandma was an incredibly gifted writer. She wrote short stories, poems, letters, diaries, tributes, and even dabbled in a good Facebook post every now and then. Her house is filled with dozens of pretty, neatly filled journals, chronicling her memories and pictures, her lessons learned, her happy days and her trying ones.

I didn’t know these journals existed until last week, when she passed away, and through learning more about her in her writing, I feel like I’m learning more about myself. Loss is funny that way. It’s as if all your memories escape from hiding places in your mind, combining together to create a perfect story and help you realize lessons you’ve learned along the way – often without even realizing it.

But wait! This isn’t meant to be a sad post. In fact, I hope it’s a happy, thoughtful one. Her journals were such an important part of her life, and these same pages she scribbled her thoughts on are now becoming an important part of mine. So, I thought it was fitting to write about some of the things my grandma has taught me, adding one last journal entry to her pages as a guest contributor (I’ll type, though, because my handwriting isn’t nearly as pretty as hers).

The Journal Appendix — Lessons Learned from Grandma Jan

Everyone has something special to him or her. But it’s even more special when someone else supports and embraces it.

When I was little, I was obsessed with the movie “101 Dalmatians,” and often dreamed about having that many Dalmatians myself. What started out as a small acquiring of stuffed animals blew up into an unnecessarily large collection, thanks to my grandma. My passion became her passion. My excitement fueled her own. And for years she was on the hunt for Dalmatians whenever she stopped by local garage sales or happened to run into a bargain at the store.

Processed with VSCOcam with p5 presetI think I had surpassed 101 at this point…. thanks, Grandma! Sorry, Mom.

Later, my favorite collection shifted from Dalmations to pretty cameos, and from there onto jewelry and magazines, but my grandma’s excitement and investment in my own interests never wavered. And it’s taken until now to realize how much that meant to me. It’s one thing to have your own collections, passions, hobbies, but it’s quite another when someone else embraces it. I hope that I can one day fuel someone else’s fire in the way my grandma did for me every day.

It’s never too late to try something new.

I can be a bit hesitant at times to try something new or really put myself out there. My grandma never had that problem. I was reminded of that when finding a picture of her laying in one of those awful ball pits at the McDonald’s near her house. We were there grabbing a quick burger (kids’ meals were always her favorite) when she spotted the children’s play area and remarked that in all her years, she had never known what it was like to jump in a ball pit. We jokingly told her to try it out, then, to our surprise, she marched right up and took a mini-leap. We were in hysterics laughing — she had to have been around 70 at the time, and that memory will always stay dear to me.

She showed me that you’re never too old to try something new and go for it (for the record, she did say that ball pit was “not as exciting as [she] imagined”).

There are always more stories. Always more memories to share. Always more lessons.

My grandma was a beautiful writer and was dedicated to her diary. Reading her journals and her accounts of different events and memories from her life over the past 70-plus years has brought joy to our family this week. Inside, there are things I had no idea she experienced — like finding out that in her 20s she lived just seven blocks from my current house — and places I didn’t know she had seen, like seeing my grandparents visited Red Rocks Amphitheater on their honeymoon in 1959).

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While that at first saddened me – that I wouldn’t get a chance to ask her about these experiences – I’ve realized that no matter how many questions I had asked, there was, and is, always going to be more to hear, learn and ask about. I can never know every single thing about a person or topic, and actually, I think that’s exciting.


My grandma had filled out one of those little questionnaire books that grandchildren can give to their grandparents. It has a question for each day of the year that they are supposed to answer thoughtfully (sorry, Grandma, for such an exhausting self-gift). On August 3, 1990-something, the book asked, “Do you have a good piece of advice for me?” She wrote, “Smile at everybody. It’s free, and it just might be the only smile somebody gets in a day.” So though there will be times in these next days, months, years that it will be hard to keep that smile, I’ll keep that in mind, Grandma. Oh, and that part you said about “always looking your best”? I’m going to take that really literally and capitalize on those fall sales at the mall. I know you’d be in full support. 😉